Harry and Meghan have cut off the press: Are they exercising their freedom or suppressing it?

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It is no secret now that the treatment of the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, was too much for her to take. After officially entering into a relationship with Prince Harry in 2016, their romance was revealed to the world not on their terms, but in a public statement issued by the Prince as a plea to the press to ‘pause and reflect before any further damage [was] done’. The English press did far from such, beginning a trail of harassment that would follow the couple through their marriage, pregnancy, and subsequent separation from the Royal Family.

Their latest decision to stop all co-operation from four of the biggest tabloid publications is, therefore, no surprise. Editors of The Sun, The Mirror, The Daily Mail, and Express papers received correspondence over the weekend informing them that ‘there will be no corroboration and zero engagement’ with their publications. Their communications team is also following the same guidelines. Previously, papers could have contacted representatives to confirm or deny allegations. They will now no longer be able to do so. The couple does, however, make clear that they will be supporting other publications, ‘doing whatever they can to help further opportunities for more diverse and underrepresented voices’.

The choice to deliberately exclude these four huge names in the UK is no coincidence. Known for their speculative journalism, these tabloids were accused last year of racism because of their treatment of Meghan, especially when compared to her sister-in-law Kate Middleton. The treatment of the two is worlds apart. When The Daily Mail revelled in the Duchess of Cambridge touching her pregnant stomach but blasted the Duchess of Sussex for doing the same, it became clear that there was some sort of hidden agenda behind the reporting. As an American divorcee, Meghan instantly drew parallels with Wallis Simpson, who Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry nearly one hundred years ago. When tabloid abuse led to her and Prince Harry formally withdrawing from royal duties and starting a new life in America with their son, the event, dubbed ‘Megxit’, only fuelled this comparison.

Based on sexism, the idea that their wives led the former King and the Prince to ‘abandon’ their positions is yet another media tactic that led to this decision. Harry was made over the past year to seem weak, and Meghan controlling, when in reality, as seen in a vulnerable interview last October, the Duchess had tried all that she could to cope with the intense scrutiny from the British media. By painting her as a villain, the four named papers made a deliberate attempt to turn the public against her, which, in the wake of tragic suicides like Love Island’s Mike Thalassitis, who the public and press had dubbed ‘Muggy Mike’, indicates either severe negligence when thinking about the mental health of the Duchess, or malice.

But what about freedom of speech? The press has a duty to report the news to the public, and are allowed to say almost anything they like unless it contains hate speech or incitement. By cutting off a select section of the British press, some have argued that Meghan and Harry are in fact restricting their freedom to report. However, considering that what the press have been reporting has always been speculation, rarely based in fact, it is fair that the couple has taken steps to protect themselves against baseless accusations.

When The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Mirror, and Express have the power to force a member of the Royal Family to leave their position for their safety and mental health, it signifies a degree of influence over the country that is dangerous for those the press choose to write about. These papers are still able to write their vitriol and will continue as usual to vilify Meghan in the eyes of the British public for her crimes of loving her husband and putting her health first. Whilst this decree is important and highlights to the people exactly the kind of papers the Sussexes wish us not to support, it will never stop the reporting. It will only prevent the papers from getting that all-important exclusive.

Lizzie Wright

Image: Wikimedia Commons.